A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 245 Anyuta must have been very busy at the base hospital, for on this dull autumn day the apartment looked quite neglected. There was a thick layer of dust on everything, and the flowers on the windowsill and stands were yellow and wilted, as if they had not been watered for a long time. There were mouldy crusts on the table, and the kettle had not been removed. The piano, too, was clothed in a soft, grey coat of dust, and a large bluebottle, seemingly suffocating in the musty air, was buzzing dejectedly and beating itself against a dim, yellowish window-pane. Meresyev flung open the windows, which overlooked a sloping garden that had been converted into a vegetable plot. A blast of fresh air blew into the room and stirred up the accumulated dust so vigorously that it looked like a fog. Here a happy idea occurred to Alexei ... to tidy up the room and give Anyuta a pleasant surprise if she managed to get away from the hospital in the evening in order to see him. He begged the old woman to lend him a pail, a rag and a swab and zealously set about a job that for ages men had looked upon with scorn. For an hour and a half he rubbed and scrubbed and dusted, thoroughly enjoying the work. In the evening, he went to the bridge where, on his way to the house, he had seen girls selling large, bright autumn asters. He bought a bunch, placed the flowers in vases on the piano and on the table, made himself com- fortable in the green armchair, and conscious of a pleas- ant tiredness all over his body, he greedily inhaled the odours of the meal the old woman was cooking in the kitchen from the provisions he had brought. But Anyuta came home so weary that, barely greeting him, she flung herself upon the couch and did not even notice how tidy the room was. Only after she had rested and had taken a drink of water did she look round in surprise. Smiling a weary smile and gratefully pressing Meresyev's elbow, she said: "No wonder Grisha loves you so much that it makes me a little jealous. Did you do it, Alyosha ... you your- self? You are a nice boy! Have you heard anything from Grisha? He is over there. I received a letter from him the other day, a short one, just a couple of lines. He is in Stalingrad, and what do you think the silly boy is doing?